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Systemic interventions in schools – New partnerships and new perspectives

The School Leadership Programme is an accredited course that was launched when Seed Educational Trust and USB Executive Development (USB-ED) entered into an agreement to cooperate in the educational space in 2010. 

Poor leadership in schools often leads to general ‘stuckness’, conflict and low morale and this in turn has the effect of poor performance by educators in the classroom, which ultimately leads to poor learner results. The School Leadership Programme operates from the premise that poor performing schools may be impacted most significantly by developing effective leaders that are able to lead cohesive and effective teams.

What makes the programme different from other educational interventions offered in South Africa?

Firstly, the School Leadership Programme is different from other interventions in that it offers an integrated approach that includes training, coaching, facilitation and academic reflection. The ideas and concepts covered in the training are reflected on soon after the training has occurred and are applied through the coaching process and through written assignments. This allows the learning to “land”.

Secondly, the programme recognises that the organisational culture present in the education system is different from that of business. While the organisational tools and lenses used in business are helpful, they need to be adapted to suit the educational culture. People who become educators more often than not do so out of a sense of calling and wanting to make a difference in young people’s lives. Every programme participant undergoes an Insights personality profiling exercise and by far the dominant energy colour obtained is “green”, which describes a person who is caring, wants fairness and a sense of community and teamwork. Such people are motivated by a sense of belonging, being included and making a difference. They do not find change easy and prefer to avoid conflict. To get the best out of people in education therefore requires an approach that allows space for consensus building and participation. It also requires a facilitative leadership style that enables the system to find its own unique solutions, rather than being overly prescriptive and autocratic. The School Leadership Programme seeks to develop this kind of leadership.

Thirdly, the programme works with the system that supports schools, rather than against it or parallel to it. Managers in District Offices who are responsible for the supervision and support of schools also attend the programme which aims to develop their facilitative leadership skills. This not only ensures a systemic approach to existing challenges, but also ensures that sustainability is built into the system as District staff begin to fulfil the role of mentors and facilitators in schools, rather than just compliance officers.

It wouldn’t be honest to claim that the successes of schools involved in the programme are due exclusively to the programme. However, it is encouraging to see the trends of schools whose leaders are involved in the programme. In the Metropole East Education District in the Western Cape, which stretches from Khayelitsha to Macassar and beyond, more than 50% of high schools and primary schools involved in the School Leadership Programme have shown significant improvement (more than 10%) in learner results. District Director, Melvyn Caroline, at a certificate ceremony hosted at USB-ED, affirmed the role that the programme had played in dramatically reducing the number of poor performing schools in his District. Through the investment of the Nedbank Foundation and the Old Mutual Education Flagship Project, the School Leadership Programme has extended its programmes to the King William’s Town District in the Eastern Cape and the Jane Furse District in Limpopo and early indications are that a similar impact is being made.


David Newby is an organisational development consultant and works in the non-profit and education environments. As managing trustee of Seed Educational Trust, he heads up the School Leadership Programme. Through his consultancy practice, he consults to non-profit organisations across the world. He is a member of the USB-ED faculty and teaches in the School Leadership Programme and the NPO Leadership and Strategy Programme. He is also the learning process facilitator for the NPO Management Programme. 

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